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On Monday, members of the National Association of Teachers of Further and Higher Education supported a boycott against their Israeli counterparts, with 106 votes in favour of the motion, 71 votes against and 21 delegates abstaining.
The boycott motion came at the end of NATFHE’s final conference before the union, which represents 69,000 members, today merged with the Association of University Teachers to form the University and College Union.
Israeli Ambassador Zvi Heifetz described the boycott “as an act of blatant discrimination” and insisted it would prove “counter-productive in the extreme”.
He continued: “By pursuing such a policy NATFHE will isolate its members and their students rather than isolating Israeli academics, who are at the forefront of international cooperation on academic study and research, including with Palestinian universities and institutions elsewhere in the Arab world.”
Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations, described the motion, which urges academics to work only with Israelis willing to denounce their government’s policies, as “misguided McCarthyism”.
He added: “It will come to the same end, tarnishing the reputations of its practitioners, not its targets.”
The Board of Deputies said the nature of the motion, which requires individual Israeli academics to “publicly declare their political views” in order to satisfy their British counterparts as “especially pernicious”.
Foreign Office Minister Lord Triesman said he ‘regretted’ that a boycott had been adopted, adding: “We believe that such academic boycotts are counterproductive and retrograde. Far more can be obtained through dialogue and academic cooperation.”
And, despite last year adopting its own boycott of two Israeli universities before the motion was overturned at an emergency meeting, the AUT was quick to oppose the NATFHE decision and insisted members of the new union, the UCU, would not be bound by it.
It added that it supported open dialogue and said the tactic of targeting individual academics was “fraught with difficulties and dangers and should not be followed by AUT members”.
A spokesman for NATHFE told TJ that it was not commenting on the boycott “because it is effectively void on Thursday”.
But despite doubts over whether the boycott will survive now that NATFHE no longer exists, there was anger this week from the various academic groups formed to protect academic freedom.
The Academic Friends of Israel said the motion had brought “dishonour and sheer ridicule upon NATFHE which can be rightly remembered as a racist and discriminatory union”.
The group’s Director, Ronnie Fraser, Director of, said: “If the sponsors of this boycotting campaign succeeded in something, it is only to undermine further progress, collaboration and peace in the Middle East.”
Bar-Ilan University’s International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom described the motion as a ‘grey boycott’.
Prof. Gerald Steinberg, Director of the Interdisciplinary Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation and a member of the IAB executive committee, added: “Such political actions both fuel the Arab-Israeli conflict, and destroy the academic process, since we will no longer be able to trust the objectivity and professional detachment of academics who are involved in “silent boycotts”, the journals they edit, and the peer review processes in which they participate.”
But Steven Rose, Secretary of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, welcomed the move.
He said: “We recognise that this has not been an easy decision faced with the extreme pressure put upon the Union by outside forces, including the Israeli government and the organised Israel lobby.”Israel Boycott Is 'Pernicious' by Alex Sholem